January 17, 2006

Shoot! (The Kevin Garnett Story)

Kevin Garnett is in the middle of the most efficient offensive season of his brilliant 11-year career, yet he is attempting fewer shots per game than he has since 1997-1998, his third season. Those two facts coexisting would be somewhat understandable if the Wolves were suddenly packed with great offensive players and Garnett was simply blending in, but the team is among the worst in the NBA when they have the ball.

The Wolves rank 25th in the league with an average of 91.5 points per game and rank 24th in the league with an average of 104.8 points per 100 possessions. Now, compare those ugly numbers to Garnett's outstanding individual performance. He leads the NBA with a 54.7% Field Goal Percentage and his 60.0% True Shooting Percentage ranks seventh among frequent shooters. Both of those numbers are career-highs.

There are, at most, a handful of players who have been more effective than Garnett offensively this season, which along with his usual outstanding defense, passing, and rebounding makes him without question one of the league's elite players. However, at this point his unselfishness and/or passivity with the ball (depending on how you want to view it) is actually keeping the Wolves from being a better team.

On a roster with few capable scorers, Garnett should be taking more shots than ever before. Instead, he's attempting 15.9 shots per game, which ranks a ridiculous 21st in the league. Adjusting for playing time and the Wolves' slow tempo, Garnett ranks 30th in the league by using 23.4 possessions per 40 minutes. To put that in some context, Kobe Bryant leads the league at 35.8, with Allen Iverson (32.7), Tracy McGrady (32.1), LeBron James (30.1), and Dwyane Wade (29.8) rounding out the top five.

Garnett is less able to create his own shot than those five guys, all of whom spend most of the game with the ball in their hands, but there's no excuse for him shooting less often than fellow big men like Jermaine O'Neal (26.4), Zach Randolph (24.9), Pau Gasol (24.5), Elton Brand (24.3), and Chris Webber (23.5).

Garnett's outstanding passing ability and unique unselfishness have proven to be major assets in the past, but those skills are less valuable this year. The only other efficient shooter the Wolves have is Wally Szczerbiak, who often struggles to create his own shot. That means the shots Garnett passes on are trickling down to Marko Jaric, Troy Hudson, Eddie Griffin, Rashad McCants, Trenton Hassell, and Michael Olowokandi, which is like The Rolling Stones cutting a set short so that their opening act can play a few extra songs.


Wally Szczerbiak 61.3
Kevin Garnett 60.0


Trenton Hassell 52.4
Mark Madsen 51.9
Richie Frahm 49.8
Marko Jaric 49.3
Troy Hudson 48.0
Anthony Carter 46.6
Michael Olowokandi 46.4
Rashad McCants 44.2
Eddie Griffin 40.3

*True Shooting Percentage = (PTS / (2 x (FGA + (.44 x FTA)))

When those are the alternatives, there is no reason for Garnett to be shooting 16 times per game. Even if increasing his shots meant a significant drop in efficiency, he'd still be helping the offense by taking attempts away from the assortment of mediocrities the Wolves run out there every night. Prior to this season Garnett's TS% was 53.9%, which is safely above league average and would rank second on the team behind only Szczerbiak.

Yet here it is the middle of January, the Wolves are hovering around .500 and clearly struggling offensively, and Garnett hasn't taken 20 shots in a game since December 26. In fact, he has hoisted up 20 or more shots in a game a grand total of three times this season. There are five players (Bryant, Iverson, James, McGrady, and Gilbert Arenas) who are averaging more than 20 shots per game on the year.

This isn't a criticism of Garnett as much as it is a plea to him. The Wolves are going nowhere with other players taking 80% of the team's shots, and while Szczerbiak has been excellent this year, his skill set makes it difficult to increase his attempts much beyond where he's at right now. All of which leaves it to Garnett to finally emerge as more than just a great all-around player. The Wolves need him to become a great scorer.

Today at The Hardball Times:
- The Team That Nearly Wasn’t: The Montreal Expos (by Maury Brown)
- Phranklin (by Craig Burley)

Pick of the Day (165-151, +$1,075):
Louisville -2 (-110) over St. John's

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